I’m seated by the entrance of the NTV newsroom. Everyone is paying attention to their computer. I‘m paying mine to two gentlemen seated behind one computer. Both are “heavy” fellas but one stands out. He is muscular. His shirt’s sleeves are clearly overstretched by his bulging biceps. Some folk passing by him call him “bouncer”, in jest.
His name is Ivan Kyeyune. His fans call him Zungulu, I later learn. Zungulu is a satirical feature that runs every Friday during the NTV Ku saawa emu ( the 7pm Luganda weekend news bulletin) on NTV. Kyeyune is behind the silvery voice that leaves many in offices, homes and bars, in stitches.
It is a Friday afternoon. Kyeyune (the other “heavy” fella I was talking about) and Zungulu’s producer, Frank Walusimbi are sharing notes about the skit to be aired later in the evening. I am not within earshot so I cannot hear what they are discussing. But I can see what is on the computer screen before them.
Footage of Jennifer Musisi, KCCA’s Executive Director at a soccer match is showing. She is flailing her arms in celebration, of, I think, scoring a goal. The clip is stopped. The duo converse briefly and then play a new video recording.
It bears Kawempe Mayor Mubarak Munyagwa at what seems like a demonstration. This one is also stopped to give way to a chat between the two. At the tail end of the activity, Kyeyune walks up to me, takes my hand and leads me to the voice booth to see him do the voice over.
Zungulu was born
For the last three years, the 27-year-old has been visiting the booth to voice the satirical feature, Zungulu . It is no surprise he is confident behind the microphone.
I inquire whether his attitude was the same on day one. He giggles, adjusts the sunglasses perched on his forehead then answers in the affirmative. “I had the benefit of the experience as an active radio presenter at Radio Simba. So I was not nervous,” he says, “However, I was not sure about the viewers’ reception of Zungulu. Our goal was to make them laugh, but we were not certain that they would.”
Kyeyune did not watch the maiden clip of Zungulu. He was in the gym. He says he goes to the gym to relax his mind ( but from the sight of him, it is obvious that the results are more than getting a peace of mind). He has earned muscle growth. At the end of the workout session, he found several missed calls and messages on his phone.
“People were calling and texting to inform me that they had heard my voice on a humorous video recordings that had been aired on NTV. They congratulated me and the team on coming up with a unique and humorous idea,” he says.
If the high number of views the Zungulu clips that have registered on YouTube, are anything to go by, the idea was a success. In fact, Kyeyune offers that it is the shortest piece on all the local televisions that has a sponsor.
“You can imagine it lasts only five minutes. There are programmes that last 30 minutes yet they do not have sponsors,” he states.
Kyeyune’s potential as the suitable person to make Zungulu triumphant was spotted while he hosted a sports show at Radio Simba. He says his point of uniqueness was that he paid more attention to the humorous side of a soccer match than the other commentators did.
“Anyone can say so and so has the ball, he has passed it on to so and so and a goal has been scored. I chose to approach my commentary from a lighter angle,” he says. “I came up with nicknames for almost all the players. For example, I called Wayne Rooney “Kyakabale” because of his energy.
Didier Drogba was “Amanda” and Arsene Wenger was “Katadooba”.” His good sense of humour (cracked me up a couple of times during the interview) which he attributes his success to, saw him appointed to do other shows. Today, he hosts Tokkamalirawo a prime time call-in show on Radio Simba that runs from 4pm to 7pm.
Education and family expectations
Kyeyune’s father, Steven Kayizi, did not prepare his son to earn from the media. He foresaw him in a hospital or clinic treating the sick. He thus labelled him “doctor” from as early as Senior One while at Mulusa Academy in Wobulenzi – where he had his secondary school education.
The 27-year-old also had hopes of being one because he excelled at sciences. At A-Level, he studied Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Agriculture.
“In Senior Six, I lost concentration for a reason I cannot point out. It reflected on my results. I performed poorly. I could not be admitted anywhere for medicine,” he says. It is because of this that he enrolled for a diploma in Electronic Installation at Kyambogo University. At the end of his course, he hit the streets for a job. His pursuit for one landed him at the doorstep of Radio Simba, which took him on as an electronics technician.
The journey to media begins
It was about the time Kyeyune was hired that Radio Simba was looking for a sports presenter. For an unclear reason, J.J Semanda, a senior staff member at Radio Simba, was convinced that Kyeyune was the person they were looking for.
“I love challenges and I wanted to try out radio presenting,”says Kyeyune, “Some of my colleagues were telling me but I had made up my mind.”
He underwent training for about eight months to improve his voice and learn the new skill.
“I know you are going to ask about my father’s view when I joined the media. At the time I was already independent. So as long as I was able to sustain myself, he was okay with any choice I went for.”
When he looks back at his career journey he does so with no regrets. He believes he has achieved more in the media than he would, if he had chosen any other career. He has made friends from almost all walks of life.
He is friends with Retired Colonel Dr Kizza Besigye, Kawempe Mayor Mubarak Munyagwa and kick boxer Moses Golola, three people, he mentions as having featured on Zungulu, the most. He notes that the trio, in his opinion, have been the source of the funniest material.
Funny fans and contributors
It is not just the friends he has made, but the love from the fans too, has made it worthwhile. He shares an experience he had in one of the clubs in the city where a fan showered him with wild and unanticipated love.
“A friend called out my name. I responded. A man standing next to me, inquired if I was the Ivan Kyeyune who voices Zungulu. I said yes. The man shouted out my name, hugged me and carried me shoulder high while telling me how much he liked what I do,” he narrates.
The love he has received from his fans has steered him and the Zungulu team to work harder to keep the jokes coming. The fans, he says, have made his work easier. When they watch any hilarious footage, they call him up and suggest that he includes it in the forthcoming edition.
“They are like partial directors of the show,” he states. The satirical piece’s fan base also includes the NTV reporters.
For its love, whenever they go to the field to cover news events, they endeavour to look out for any funny material.
But to what source does Kyeyune trace the genesis of his sense of humour? “Back in primary and secondary school, I was one of the funniest people. Surprisingly, I was not a member of any drama clubs. I always cracked my jokes in class, dormitories or at assembly,” he narrates.
He became popular as the funny boy in school. Little did he know that in the world outside school, he would also be adored for making people laugh.
The above revelations may suggest that his job is one that is challenge free. No. “There are weeks when events in the news are dull or sensitive that you cannot come up with a humorous side.
For example, when there are reports of stolen government funds, accidents and rape. You cannot joke about such incidents. However, we still come up with a piece . In such a case, both we and the viewers feel that it has been “forced”,” he says.
Kyeyune does a lot of research to be updated and at the top of his game. He rarely misses news broadcasts on television (of course NTV, particularly) and reads newspapers.
Where does he see himself in the next five years? “I will be a Member of Parliament. I intend to contest in the 2016 elections. I’m impressed that I can do a better job than what most of the MPs are doing,” he concludes.
WHY THE PRODUCER CHOSE
I am an ardent listener of Radio Simba. I first heard Kyeyune when he was commentating a premier league match. I realised he had the ability to decipher humour from any kind of situation – including hard news content. There were other people I had spotted to voice Zungulu but, I wanted to zero on a person who could ably treat issues with careful consideration. Zungulu is satire. We use humour and exaggeration to critique or ridicule people’s behaviour but we have boundaries.
Kyeyune fitted the above qualities. He has been improving each time he comes to voice. His attitude and willingness to make the idea a success has given Zungulu prominence. His exceptional voicing has also made that feature a yardstick for satire. There is reason to watch the evening news on Friday.
“It is a satirical feature that is broadcast during the 7pm news on NTV every Friday. It started in 2011. Back then, we would capture a lot of humorous content that qualifies for lighter news. This was to be used for Point Blank – another satirical feature that is inclined to the English language(audience).
The content that had people speaking in the local dialects was never understood. People are funnier when speaking a language they understand better.
We thought better, that instead of this material going to waste, we could use it for satire. That is how the Zungulu concept came about. I identify material to use, script and edit it.” Frank Walusimbi, Zungulu producer.